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Doonbeg woman’s top tips for surfing the waves of stress

WHEN Doonbeg native Deirdre Fitzpatrick O’Reilly made the decision, at the age of 28, to swap football for surfing, she feel in love with the waves off the west coast and found a metaphor for coping with the ups and downs of life.

With a background in health and leisure management, as well as teaching wellness activities, the thrills and challenges of surfing have inspired Deirdre to write her first book on mindfulness and meditation. Surfing the Waves of Stress, which has just been published, is described as a guide to navigating life’s hurdles using a toolbox of strategies to maintain balance and calmness. “There are always going to be ups and downs in life, there will always be waves,” Deirdre explained. “Using mindfulness is like learning to surf. It’s not a cure for stress. Life will bring stress, but mindfulness is your surf board. It’s your buoyancy aid and a great tool to cope with stress. I was at a beach in Sligo, where there is a notice to say that swimming is banned but that surfing is allowed. There are situations in life like that, where you have to get your surfboard and handle what life throws at you.”

The appeal of the book, Deirdre believes, is that it is simple to use and very much based on her own experience. “The book has lots of anecdotes and funny stories about getting through stressful situations,” Deirdre outlined. “I’m human and I’m not a guru and the book is designed to be relateable, clear and concise. Each chapter has a story and it might be a personal one, or based on a scenario from a movie. It also gives you techniques to practice and then a meditation. The feedback I’m getting is really good and one person told me they kept falling asleep, because the meditation was so relaxing. It’s a good thing to read at night. Because you’re reading, you’re also plugged out of your technology. I think that’s a very important thing, because we can be so obsessed with our devices.”

Deirdre’s decision to write the book came after a chat with one of the clients who regularly attend her classes. Deirdre specialises in yoga, kettle bells, pilates, mindfulness and meditation and, in addition to offering sessions in the workplace, runs a series of retreats, which she hopes to get back up and running, as soon as the public health guidelines allow. “At the end of the retreats, I give people some notes about the main points we cover,” she said. “One day a client came up and said she wanted to complain and that was because I hadn’t included the anecdotes and the funny stories I used during the sessions. I thought that if I was going to to to the trouble of writing those down, I would be as well to write a book.”

The process of writing began back in November in 2018 and was more or less complete the following February. After a process of editing and design, the first copies came off the press a fortnight ago and, because of the lockdown, an online launch was necessary. “I had a launch planned for Easter Saturday,” explained Deirdre. “Of course, that had to be cancelled, but it would be nice to hold an event after the summer, if possible.”

In the meantime, the book which has been published by Amazon is available online, and, thanks to the re-opening of the retail will soon be widely available in bookshops. “Because of the lockdown, the main outlet for the book, has been pharmacies. Most of them have wellness sections nowadays and the books been selling very well there,” Deirdre said. “I had a batch of 150 which sold out really quickly and, so far, the word has been spreading and the response has been great.”

Deirdre’s enthusiasm for mindfulness is infectious and stems from her own life experience. She  trained in health and leisure in college in Tralee, and went on to hold management roles at the facilities in Shannon and Lahinch. “I played a lot of football, for Doonbeg and some for Clare, and I just loved it,” she explained. “I was also getting into surfing, but it just didn’t go well with football. They weren’t a good combination.” Eventually surfing won out and its a choice that Deirdre has never regretted. “I’ve been surfing for 20 years now and it’s a process, you fall in and out of love with it,” she noted. “When you go for a run, you’re running the same road every time. When you’re surfing though, it’s a different landscape every time. Surfing isn’t always easy, it can really make you question your ability, but when it’s all going well, it really is a thrilling sport.”

Deirdre got into yoga as a way to avoid injury and has never looked back. “I really found it so useful to me personally at first,” she said. “I’ve been teaching now for 17 years and I have a 90% retention rate.” Deirdre attributes that success to the fact she keeps things simple. “I wouldn’t be naturally good at yoga, because I’m very inflexible,” she said. “That means I understand other people’s pain points and I don’t complicate things.”

The lockdown has meant Deirdre has been unable to hold face-to-face classes or her very popular retreats, but she has started a YouTube channel ‘Surfing the Waves of Stress’ for her regular clients. She is planning to resume classes, ensuring social distancing, and is looking at the possibility of running a retreat in Ennis later this year. In the meantime, Deirdre believes that mindfulness has been an important tool for getting through the last few months. “Mindfullness is about acceptance,” she explained. “It is about accepting the way things are, not the way you think they should be. If you try to change the current, things just get harder.”

Deirdre is also philosophical about the lessons of the lockdown and believes it has brought some unexpected insights. “It really has forced people to slow down,” she noted. “When I speak to my friends, we all agree that when you stop and look at what we were all trying to do, things were just crazy. I also think the way families relate to each other has changed. You don’t always have to be achieving things, you can enjoy doing simple things together.”

Gratitude is also something which Deirdre believes people will take from the lockdown experience and it’s something she practices regularly herself.

“I think the lockdown has made us all reconsider what is really important to us and what we should be grateful for,” she said. “I keep a gratitude journal and I think that writing in it at night is a great way to focus on the here and now. It makes you appreciate what you have right now, not on what you are chasing after for the future. The lockdown has really made us look again at all of the little things and the things we took for granted. We appreciate those things now, so much more.”

Deirdre believe the experience of staying close to home has also made people look again at the importance of the human connection. “Over the years, our social media lives and our relationship with technology has become very complicated,” she noted. “We have seen an explosion of stuff online during the lockdown, but to some degree, we’re all getting tired of that way of interacting and we’re beginning to appreciate human contact more. Social media can do a lot, but you just can’t beat the human connection.”

Full details of the book is available on the website surfingthewavesofstress.ie. “There’s also a free e-book there called Five Steps to Calm the Monkey Mind,” Deirdre notes. I would recommend trying that out as a kind of introduction to mindfulness.”

Details of Deirdre’s classes and retreats, which also include corporate training sessions are available on bettermybody.ie

Surfing the Waves of Stress is currently available at McInerneys and Hayes’s in Doonbeg; the Meanwell health store and Marie Bryne’s Pharmacy in Kilrush; William’s Pharmacy and Donal Hayes’s Shop in Kilkee; the Meanwell Healthshop in Ennis; The Aloe Tree in Ennistymon; Marie Kelly’s Pharmacy in Miltown Malbay and at the Ennis and Lahinch Book Shops.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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